The Hockey Hall of Fame inducts its Class of 2018 on Monday. It includes a women’s hockey icon (Jayna Hefford), a sentient Lady Byng Trophy (Marty St. Louis), a well-deserving international star (Aleksander Yakushev), someone who waited way, way too long (Willie O’Ree) and someone who probably needed to wait a little longer beyond the tenure of his current job so his accomplishments can escape the toxicity of his unpopularity to gain both clarity and congratulations (Gary Bettman).
It also inducts Martin Brodeur, the New Jersey Devils goalie — OK, and the St. Louis Blues goalie, for a minute — who is the career leader in NHL wins (691), games played (1,266, and consider for a moment only three goalies in NHL history have played more than 1,000), shots against (31,709), saves (28,928), minutes played (74,439) as well as a record that’s up there with anything Wayne Gretzky accomplished as far as unreachability: 125 career shutouts.
The question is how many of those shutouts should be credited to Brodeur himself.
Every Hall of Famer has his or her critics. Mostly, its era-specific gripes about how one player would not have fared as well had they played under different circumstances. Sometimes it’s about games played, or a lack of accolades. (Neither is a problem for Brodeur, who also has four Vezina trophies, a Calder, Olympic gold and three Stanley Cups.) But Brodeur is unique in that there are those who believed during his playing days — and still believe as he enters the Hall of Fame — that he is the product of a system, a product of the defensive talent in front of him. That he is either the chicken or the egg, depending on which one arrived second.
They are the Marty Truthers, and they continue to conspire.
The venerable hockey historian Joe Pelletier once ranked him the fourth-most overrated player in NHL history. “He may own all the important goaltending records, but he was at best the third best goalie in his own time. He never surpassed Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek as top dog when all three were playing at the same time. Some might place Eddie Belfour above him at that time, too,” he wrote.
There have been exposés about him. There have been articles detailing how the neutral zone trap and his Hall of Fame defensemen — Scott Stevens, Scott Neidermayer — carried him.
The InfoWars of Marty Truthers was the subtly titled blog called Brodeur is a Fraud. It included such treatises as “The 10 Types of Overrated” and statistical analysis that rated Brodeur far in back of both Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy. It was an entertaining read, a contrarian minority report on a goaltender who had been placed on a pedestal.
But a funny thing happened around 2013 on that blog, in the final post under that banner: The mea culpa that Brodeur “may be overrated in some circles, particularly among members of the mainstream media, but he is certainly not a fraud,” according to the blog’s author, Philip Myrland (whom I reached out to recently with no luck, alas).
“In short, if you haven’t read the entire record of my mini-obsession with Martin Brodeur to trace the evolving perspective of his career in this space, there is good reason to believe that a basic save percentage analysis underrates him to the point that he does deserve to considered [sic] one of the top 6-8 goalies ever. This is because Brodeur adds value in terms of non-save skills (I believe primarily through puck-handling and keeping the play going to reduce faceoffs in his own zone), and because his home town scorekeeper cost him several points on his save percentage through undercounting shots relative to other rinks around the league,” wrote Myrland.
“Goaltending is about finding small edges that add up over time, and once those two things are factored in, Brodeur’s initially good-but-not-necessarily-elite save percentage record looks a lot more impressive.”
To me, that last point is the Rosetta Stone for understanding Brodeur’s greatness. There were things that he did that went beyond the tabulation of traditional goaltending stats — things that made the very system that is credited with padding those stats work as well as it did.
His ability to be effective without a high shot volume, for one. His unmatched puck-handling skills for another. He was a third defenseman back there. That skill helped turn the Devils’ defensive systems into the smothering championship-caliber machines they were just as much as Stevens, Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko or Brian Rafalski did. I’m not sure how you rate immortality, but I’m pretty sure when your league invents a rule to stop you from being so damn good, that’s a good indication of it.
As a Devils fan, I’m obviously a partisan, but I’m not a blind Brodeur acolyte. There were years when his reputation trumped his achievements — Marty Turco deserved the 2002-03 Vezina Trophy, for example. He benefited from playing in a defensive era much like anyone who held a stick in the 1980s benefited from that firewagon era. But you can’t deny his talent, his focus, his longevity and the fact that he’s got one of the most startlingly accomplished Hall of Fame resumés in hockey history.
In the Great Modern NHL Goalie Debate, I’m always going to rank Dominik Hasek first, because he’s the most talented hockey player — skater or otherwise — I’ve ever seen. (Although give Connor another decade and I’ll reconsider.) But I’ll take Brodeur over Patrick Roy and the rest of his peers. Even the Marty Truthers know the truth: Brodeur was one of a kind.
Wednesday night was a great reminder that the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins are the NHL’s greatest rivalry going at the moment. Goals from Ovechkin and Sid. Controversy with the Malkin hit on Oshie, who returned to the game for late third-period heroics. It was just drama on top of drama on top of contentious competition. It was great.
Also great: That Penguins fans aren’t about to let the Capitals’ first Stanley Cup in franchise history take them down a peg. Because, after all, Mario won twice and Sid won thrice:
What a jerk. pic.twitter.com/nxx76xrdrs
– Capitals Outsider (@CapsOutsider) November 7, 2018
Chris Nowinski: NHL will acknowledge CTE after lawsuits
Bob Costas could remember a time when every football pregame show would gleefully run highlight reels of players getting “jacked up” with injurious hits to the head. J.A. Adande recalled covering Paul Kariya of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim after one of his many concussions, and realizing for the first time the unpredictability and devastation of brain injuries.
These veteran journalists have watched the coverage of concussions in the sports media change over time, and now they’re among the media members who have partnered with the Concussion Legacy Foundation to help speed that process. The Concussion Legacy Foundation Media Project was announced on Thursday, a program for working journalists and college journalism students that addresses everything from the latest news on concussions to the preferred way to speak and report on them.
“Many children first learn about concussions through watching sports,” said Chris Nowinski, Ph.D., CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “We’re excited to provide training programs for journalists, so the media can better educate parents, kids, and coaches how to recognize and respond to concussions.
The program is being piloted at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications this fall, and at Boston University’s College of Communication next spring. Nowinski said there are more schools to come.
Nowinski has been a leading voice on CTE research and how sports leagues are handling concussions with the Concussion Legacy Foundation, the Boston-based organization that promotes concussion awareness in all levels of sport. We spoke with him about the National Hockey League’s stance on concussions and CTE, as well as this new media project:
ESPN: Were you discouraged at all that the large NHL class action concussion lawsuit fell apart?
Nowinski: I don’t really have a position on how the lawsuit should be handled. It’s not my world. But one of the obvious problems with the lawsuits taking a lot of time is that we all sorta know that the NHL isn’t acknowledging CTE because of the lawsuit. And when the lawsuit’s over, like the NFL did, they will begin to acknowledge it. I think they’ll have to.
ESPN: You say they’ll have to, but isn’t it possible that Gary Bettman actually believes that the science isn’t there to link head trauma in hockey and CTE?
Nowinski: No, I don’t think anybody of Gary Bettman’s intelligence could actually believe there’s not a very clear association and conclude, like the leaders of [the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke] and the Dept. of Defense who handle CTE research, that it causes it. His job is to protect the assets of the NHL. He’s going to say whatever it takes to protect them, whether it’s true or not.
ESPN: Is it frustrating for you when there’s so much money tied into an admission of what you consider to be the truth? Like you said, the NHL might not be candid about linkage because of a lawsuit. Members of teams and the media might not be candid for financial stake reasons.
Nowinski: There are times when it’s extraordinarily frustrating that people are making decisions focused on profit and not people. The good side of this is that they’ve made an issue that’s worth covering by the media. The denial by different leagues has allowed it to be something that’s covered in newspapers. If they agreed this was a problem, then we’d be back to the drawing board trying to reach people with this message. And that’s hard.
ESPN: The Concussion Legacy Foundation Media Project unveiled this week is an attempt to educate the sports media on the latest concussion news, but also about the correct way to report on these issues. What was the catalyst for this: Reporters seeking help on these issues, or the foundation seeking to change the way the messengers are delivering the message?
Nowinski: We haven’t had a lot of journalists reach out. Bob Costas was one of the few guys that came to Boston and met with all of us. So it’s proactive. We all still watch sports. When [concussions] are covered well, we’re like ‘hooray!’ because everybody watching it learned something. And when it’s covered poorly, we’re like “well that just put a kid at risk.” Every time someone’s lionized for playing through a concussion … that’s what I heard when I was a kid, and that’s why I threw away my own health. We’re really taking advantage of how much pride journalists have in their work, to point out that if you’re educated about this, you can do better.
ESPN: One of the things the program encourages is the use of “brain injury” rather than “head injury.” In hockey, we treat things even more vaguely: “upper body injury” instead of concussions, for example. How can you get media to use a term that is a little bit scary to say out loud, by your own program’s admission?
Nowinski: We’re trying to provide the training and use the data to show why it’s better to use those words. They’re scary. The program actually doesn’t overemphasize using “brain injury.” What we want is for people to stop using “head injury” and stop using ‘dinged, bell ringer, shake off the cobwebs’ and all those terrible ones. At least say concussion, and if it’s appropriate say ‘brain injury.’ If it’s not, that ‘s OK. We’re not trying to create problems for journalists. Not trying to get them calls from the league to say “stop using brain injury.”
ESPN: Are you happy with what the NHL has done in trying to curtail concussions or treat them, such as the spotters program?
Nowinski: In learning that the spotters were associated with the teams … look, they could have been more medically trained. And in the hockey I watch, I’d still like to see a faster hook [for potentially injured players]. I’d like to see more calls down to the ice and get more players pulled. Their threshold is too high for the concussion protocol. I don’t think there’s an enlightenment on their part about “Hey, this player is the future of the NHL, why would we take a risk with his health?” We’re suspending people for big hits, but it’s such a slow progression in penalties.
ESPN: So you’re someone who thinks big suspensions off the bat are a deterrent?
Nowinski: It’s an incentive sport. Incentives work. It has to be your 20th offense to get a 20-game suspension. I think it’s good for business to be aggressive about this. International hockey and Olympic hockey tell us that the game doesn’t have to be this violent to participants. We’re the ones getting calls from the families of former players asking for help.
Listen To ESPN ON ICE
We got into it with Los Angeles Kings president Luc Robitaille about the direction of the team after they fired John Stevens, as well as his opinion that gambling revenue windfalls could easily up NHL ticket prices. Plus Sean McIndoe (a.k.a. Down Goes Brown) joins us to talk hockey history. That, plus the firing of Joel Quenneville and the Senators’ Uber trip. Stream here and hit us up on iTunes here.
Did TNA Die So USA could live?
Here’s what we’re pretty sure about on the subject of the next World Cup of Hockey, based on the last year of rumor, innuendo and actual, on-the-record reports:
• It’ll likely take place in 2020, unless labor unrest between the NHL and the NHLPA scuttles those plans. Which would be nutty, because as you know the NHL would never cancel large swaths of games so the owners could squeeze a few extra loonies out of players who have slightly less than zero leverage in negotiations. Nope. Never. (And if they did, why, that would be the kind of thing that gets a commissioner into the Hockey Hall of Fame before he even retires, right?!)
• The tournament will be in multiple cities. It’s no secret that the empty seats in Toronto were frustrating for the NHL. Sure, the tickets were sold for the most part; but so many went unused for games that didn’t involve North American players that the optics were horrible. Putting the event in more than one city means fans will buy strips of tickets to half the games they had to buy in 2016.
• There’s a very good chance we’ve seen the end of Team Europe and our dear sweet Team North America, as the tournament lurches back to a more traditional format of eight nations.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly tells ESPN that nothing has been finally decided on that last point. We asked him if Slovakia and Switzerland were contenders for the other nations in the tournament, as both felt snubbed in the 2016 World Cup.
“Both would be considered, but are not the only options,” he said.
My theory on the potential (or inevitable) death of Team North America: That while that brilliant collection of young stars was the best thing in the ’16 World Cup, the NHL doesn’t want to see Team USA ice another underwhelming squad, one that would eliminate the tournament from the radar screens of casual fans again.
That’s what happened in 2016. The U.S. went 0-3 in the group stage and failed to make the knockout stages. Their five goals scored were the lowest in the group and the second-lowest in the eight-team tournament. They were a total bust, and part of the reason was that their youngest and brightest stars were shining for TNA.
In 2020, there’s a veritable all-star team of American players that could potentially qualify for a 23-and-under Team North America rather than Team USA: Auston Matthews, Brock Boeser, Zach Werenski, Brady Tkachuk, Matthew Tkachuk, Colin White, Clayton Keller, Charlie McAvoy, Noah Hanifin, Alex DeBrincat, Casey Mittelstadt, Jordan Greenway, and both Quinn and Jack Hughes. Depending on the date of birth restrictions for the World Cup, that could extend to Jack Eichel, Brandon Carlo and Kyle Connor, too.
Again, just a theory. For what it’s worth, Daly denies that the potential gutting of Team USA played any role in considering the fate of Team North America.
No word if Team Canada once again donating Connor McDavid to TNA might play a role.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
A critical look at a critical time for Flyers GM Ron Hextall: “The Flyers have several chronic, likely fatal flaws that have kept them from taking that next step, almost from the start of the Hextall Era.”
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Introducing the Fantasy Hockey Zero Team.